EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
On the north-western edge of Edinburgh are the remains of what was once a glittering country pile estate, a high-status property with lands and outbuildings housing a wealthy local family.
Today the former Cammo Estate is mostly overgrown and ruined, although it is kept and maintained by Edinburgh City Council, and is a popular spot for dog walkers to stretch their pooches' legs, and for children to explore and exercise their imaginations.
Built originally at the end of the seventeenth-century, the estate grew under the ownership of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik in the early eighteenth-century.
He laid out the parklands which surrounded the house and buildings, and put in an ornamental canal for visitors to stroll beside and paddle small boats upon.
An orangery was built, for the cultivation of oranges and other fruits from warmer climates than Scotland, and a Pinetum to grow and display a collection of conifers from around the world.
Stables and a carriage house provided the lodgings for the hoses and staff who ran the transport for the family and visitors, and a piggery was built for the pigs who was raised as livestock on the estate.
South of the estate a large water tower was built to provide fresh water to the property.
The estate fell into disuse and passed into the care of the National Trust in the 1970s.
After being heavily vandalised - two fires, in particular, were deliberately set, destroying much of what was left of the original house - the property was gifted to Edinburgh City Council, who have maintained it ever since.
Today, visitors can stroll through the once luscious orangery, see the confifers and monkey puzzle tree in the old pinetum, tramp beside the ornamental canal (where my co-guide Monty recently took an unscheduled swim) and see the ruined stable blocks.
It is thought that the estate, and its once grand family house, provided an inspiration to the author Robert Louis Stevenson, who used the setting in his novel Kidnapped, which also featured other nearby locations such as Corstorphine Hill and the waterfront at Cramond.
Estates such as Cammo - whose name probably derived from an old term for 'bend in the river' - help to give Edinburgh some of its unique character, and provide visitors and locals with a unique glimpse in the culture and heritage of the city's past.
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In a city so packed with literary figures, influences and associations that it became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, one of Edinburgh's most famous authors remains almost as famous now as during his own lifetime - thanks to the intervention of film and television, possibly more so.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in the city on 22 May, 1859. The building where he was born was on Picardy Place at the east end of Queen Street in the New town. Although the row of houses were demolished during the 1960s, the approximate location is marked by a statue of Doyle's greatest creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Scotland plays little part in the Holmes stories, most which were set in London, or rural locations in England, and so it is no surprise that comparatively few readers associate Doyle with Edinburgh. Growing up here as a young man, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh's medical school, where he fell under the influence of the man who would inspire fiction's most famous detective.
Dr Joseph Bell was a tutor at the school, famed for his adherence to principles of observation and logical deduction for making his medical diagnoses. After the first Sherlock Holmes story - A Study in Scarlet - appeared in 1886, the similarity between Holmes and Bell was so clear that Robert Louis Stevenson, who had also studied under Bell, wrote to Doyle from his home in Samoa: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
Since his creation, Holmes has acquired the Guinness World Record for being the most portrayed movie character in cinematic history.
Curiously, although he is often referred to as Conan Doyle, on his baptismal record from St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, which still stands near the site of his birth on Picardy Place, Conan is recorded as one of the boy's two middle names (the other being Ignatius...). In many library and reference indexes he is listed correctly by his surname alone; Doyle, A.C.
Among his non-literary interests, Doyle was also a keen sportsman, playing cricket alongside fellow authors JM Barrie and AA Milne, as well as for the Marylebone Cricket Club.
One of Doyle's most famous associations was with the world of mystics and the supernatural, where - in contrast with his most famous literary creation - he proved surprisingly gullible.
Doyle was famously taken in by the Cottingley Fairies affair of 1917, when two young girls were pictured in photographs with a collection of dancing fairies, which were later proven to be a hoax. A short association with American magician Harry Houdini saw Doyle attempt to demonstration proof of an afterlife, and associated beliefs, while Houdini vociferously campaigned to defraud mystics and mediums.
Doyle died at his home in Sussex, England, in 1930. The statue of Sherlock Holmes was unveiled in the 1990s, and visitors can still enjoy a drink or a meal at the Conan Doyle pub, near the site of his birth - having a drinking hole named after you is one of the greatest forms of tribute Scotland can offer its famous sons and daughters.
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Like Rome, Edinburgh's city centre is traditionally said to have been built on seven hills - many of them having been lost or disguised by building and development in the past 300 years (Moultray's Hill, for example, was approximately under where Multrees Walk in the New Town is today).
These hills were specifically in the area covered by the centre of the city - outlying hills, such as Blackford and Corstorphine, were not counted in the original seven.
Between these hills, or peaks of higher ground, the landscape ran in deep ravines, the most obvious ones the two valleys carved out by glacial action during the last Ice Age. The valley where Princes Street Gardens are today, and the parallel valley south of the Royal Mile, where the Cowgate runs, still divide the city into a series of peaks and troughs, and it was in order to make these troughs easier to navigate that six bridges were built.
Again, these bridges are only the ones immediately within the city centre - the likes of Stockbridge and the Dean Bridge are further out, and weren't integral to navigating the heart of the city.
Here are the six bridges which connect Edinburgh's city centre - how many of them will you cross (perhaps unknowingly!) during your visit?
Probably the most obvious one, North Bridge runs over the top of Waverley Station, and was originally the main access road between the Old and the New Towns. The current bridge is the third to have been built on this site after previous versions either collapsed or were in need of improvement.
A continuation of North Bridge to the other side of the Royal Mile, South Bridge crosses the Cowgate, and has only one of its original 21 arches visible today. The others were concealed by the buildings which were put up alongside the bridge after it was built in the 1760s.
Beneath Edinburgh Castle, at the base of the rock, is the curiously low, wide span of the King's Bridge, running over the top of King's Stables Road. Opened in 1831, this bridge was integral to the construction of Johnston Terrace, providing an accessible route to the top of the Royal Mile for the first time in Edinburgh's history.
GEORGE IV BRIDGE
Another elevated roadway, designed by Thomas Hamilton, also crossing the Cowgate, but from the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile. Two arches of the bridge remain externally visible, and during the summer the big Underbelly festival venue takes audiences into the underside of the arches for its performance spaces.
Crossing the ravine where Calton Road used to run through the valley where Waverley Station is today, the Regent Bridge connected Princes Street to the newly developed areas of Regent Road and (today) St Andrew's House. The single span is high and narrow, with commemorative columns at the top, and was opened in 1819.
Finally, Waverley Bridge, connecting the bottom of Cockburn Street to Princes Street, provides access to the railway station, and forms the second access bridge across the northern glacial valley.
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Trinity College Church was founded in 1460, and stood in the village of Calton, just outside the boundaries of the old city of Edinburgh.
Calton nestled in the valley between the Royal Mile and Calton Hill - the site today is occupied by Waverley Station, and it's hard to imagine that a large settlement once existed in this area.
As the railway station needed to grow to accommodate the increased traffic of visitors and businessmen drawn to the city in the 1840s, and in a not-so-rare act of cultural annihilation, it was decided that the village of Calton would be demolished to create space for the new, improved railway station. At one time the city's botanical garden had been located in the valley where Calton sat, before itself moving further out to town (and later again to its current site at Inverleith).
As the church at the centre of Calton was a historically significant structure, established by Mary of Gueldres, wife of King James II, the city council was paid £16,000 by the North British Railway Company (who operated the main lines into the station) to handle the church's preservation. The decorative altarpieces from the church, a series of panels painted by Flemish artist Hugo van de Goes, were remarkable for surviving the Reformation in 1560, and were removed from the church before its demolition. Today the four panels can be seen in the National Galleries of Scotland.
And so in 1848 the church was deconstructed, the stones dismantled and individually numbered - the plan was to reconstruct the church a little later in another location. And so one of the city's biggest jigsaw puzzles came to be!
The stones of Trinity College Church were stacked at the side of the valley during the construction of the new station, and that's where the church remained for the next twenty years. In the 1870s, when they eventually decided to reconstruct the historic church, they discovered - quel surprise - not all the original stonework was where it had been left. In the intervening decades, it is thought that significant quantities of the stone had been 'borrowed' and used in the construction of myriad other buildings.
And so, when they came to reconstruct the church on Chalmers Close, behind the modern Jury's Inn Hotel, the builders only had enough stone to construct a truncated version of the original church.
Today Trinity Apse, as it is known, still stands on the lane between Jeffrey Street and the Royal Mile, and formerly was used as the city's brass rubbing centre. Visitors passing the building can appreciate the strange, foreshortened dimensions of the church, and close examination shows the numbers on some of the stones, a leftover from the original deconstruction project.
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In Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens you'll find the Ross Fountain, a structure which has featured heavily in some of the iconic imagery of Edinburgh over the years - guide books and postcards are often found with a photograph of the view up to Edinburgh Castle from the Gardens, with this fountain in the foreground.
The fountain itself had been cast in iron at a foundry outside Paris in the 1860s. It was produced for an exhibition of modern art, technology and invention in London, in 1862. It was whilst visiting the exhibition that a local man, a gunsmith named Daniel Ross, saw the fountain and bought it on a moment of impulse.
He gifted it to the city of Edinburgh, but unfortunately Edinburgh didn't really want it! They style of the fountain - bathing nymphs, with bared flesh and voluptuous figures - wasn't entirely in keeping with public mores at the time, and it was not considered an especially attractive construction by the Victorian locals.
It was shipped up from London in 122 pieces, and then sat in storage for a decade while the city council considered where they were going to put it. Eventually the site in West Princes Street Gardens was agreed, and the fountain was re-erected in this popular public space.
There was a degree of controversy around the fountain from the moment it was unveiled in 1872 - the minister and congregation of St Cuthbert's Church, which backs directly onto the Gardens, objected to the fountain on the grounds that it was hardly in keeping with the tone of the area. The site of St Cuthbert's is the oldest continually used site of worship in the city, believed to have been founded by Cuthbert himself in the seventh century. For such sacred space to be sullied by such a gaudy and tasteless monument was considered an outrage.
However, the fountain was never moved, and has remained in its iconic vantage point, beneath the northern ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, ever since.
Following an extensive period of restoration and cleaning, as of July 2018 the Ross Memorial Fountain is functional once again!
Keen-eyed observers will notice that it is now a different colour from the way it looked just a couple of years ago (compare with the photo above). The restorers suggest that this eye-catching blue, brown and gold design is typical of the style that these fountains would have been back in the 1860s...
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St Andrew Square in Edinburgh's New Town is one of the city's finest public spaces, as well as being where the New Town began development in 1767. Both the monument in the centre of the square, and one of the buildings around its edge, share a connection with branches of the Dundas family, who in the eighteenth century were one of Scotland's most powerful dynasties.
Sir Lawrence Dundas emerged from the merchant branch of the Dundas family. His father had owned a cloth and drapery business in the Luckenbooths, in the heart of the Old Town's market area on the Royal Mile, but Lawrence left the family trade to rise through the social ranks to become a property developer, and later a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In the 1760s, when James Craig was laying out his design for Edinburgh's New Town, the garden of St Andrew Square was intended to have a church to Scotland's patron saint built on the east side of the square. A parallel arrangement was planned for the west end of George Street, where St George Square (now Charlotte Square) would have a grand church built on its western side, creating a lateral symmetry across the New Town, with the two churches 'bookending' the grand central thoroughfare of George Street.
When the land was put up for purchase, the plot which had been set aside for the Church of Scotland was instead retained by Lawrence Dundas - he felt the site facing across the square would be better suited to his family home than a church, and he foiled Craig's plans for symmetry across the city. The church dedicated to St Andrew was instead built on George Street itself, where it remains today.
The grand villa that Lawrence Dundas made his family home was bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland after Lawrence's death in 1781, and later became the world headquarters for the financial organisation. The building remains in the RBS holdings today, and is open to the public as a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland - visitors to the grand banking hall can enjoy something of the splendour that Lawrence Dundas built for his family, in lieu of the church.
In the centre of St Andrew Square stands an impressive monument, which many (reasonably) assume to commemorate the patron saint of Scotland, for whom the square is named. In fact the monument was built for Henry Dundas, a wealthier, more powerful relative of Lawrence Dundas, who earned his own place in the Edinburgh Rogues' Gallery for his own underhand activities.
For twenty years Henry Dundas - known in Scotland as Harry the Ninth, due to the amount of power he wielded over the country - was treasurer to the British Navy, as well as being the UK's first Secretary of State for War. He was also a vocal opponent to the abolition of the UK's role in the slave trade.
In 1801 Dundas resigned after being investigated for claims of misappropriation of public finances when the Navy discovered a proportion of its cash wasn't in the coffers where it should be.
At the time, Henry Dundas was a member of the Houses of Parliament, and when the allegations of financial corruption emerged he was thrown out - he remains the last MP to be impeached.
The 150ft monument to Dundas was designed in 1821, and paid for "by contributions from officers and men of the Royal Navy", which could be considered a euphemism for the manner in which Dundas spent the money he is alleged to have embezzled from his former employer...
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People seem quite happy to associate Edinburgh's Old Town with death and murder, with the various ghost tour companies thrilling visitors with stories of bloodshed and misery.
But the New Town has its own share of crime and killings, one notorious example of which was brought to a grisly conclusion on this day, 1 May, in 1717.
At that time, fifty years before the development of Edinburgh's grand new housing development was undertaken, the area to the north of the valley where Princes Street Gardens are today was a patchwork of fields, farmland and parks. On some maps the area is referred to as Barefoot's (or Bearford's) Park - it was largely undeveloped space, and a prime location for the New Town development which would follow toward the latter end of the eighteenth century.
In the valley where Waverley Station stands today, was the village of Calton, and from it a rough track led over Multrees Hill (roughly where Multrees Walk - home of Harvey Nicols and Louis Vuitton - is today) and down to the north, toward the village of Silvermills. It was along this track that a young man called Robert Irvine was walking on 28 April 1717, accompanied by the two boys to whom he was employed as a tutor.
The boys, aged around 9 and 11 years old, were the sons of James Gordon, a wealthy merchant who lived in the Old Town. As well as being the boys' tutor, Irvine was also in relationship with a maid from the household.
Some weeks previously, upon learning that Irvine and the maid were conducting a relationship under his roof, Gordon had dismissed the maid from his household and thrown her out into the street. She was immediately made homeless, unemployed and - potentially - unemployable, as she would be unable to provide a reference or recommendation to a future employer.
After the maid's dismissal, Irvine had been instructed in no uncertain terms that he was not to have a relationship with any member of the household staff. Irvine was plunged into a jealous rage, humiliated by the intervention of Gordon in his private life.
He also resolved to have his revenge upon the family.
And so it was, on that bright spring day at the end of April, that Irvine was bringing the boys for a picnic in Barefoot's Park. As they passed along the path between Calton and Silvermills, Irvine took a penknife from his pocket. The boys, taking fright, ran from him, but being older and faster he quickly caught up with them. Holding the younger boy down with his knee, he cut the throat of the older boy, before killing the younger boy too.
It was a bloody and violent act, and Irvine probably would have had the fortune to get away with it - there being no witnesses to the crime on the remote rural pathway. If he oculd have claimed that the boys had been killed by robbers, with irvine unable to protect them, he may never have faced justice at all...
Except there was a witness to his acts. A man at Edinburgh Castle had observed the whole sequence of events through a telescope, and saw them in enough detail to be able to pass Irvine's description to the police.
Irvine was quickly arrested and brought to trial. (The maid was also arrested, but was later released on the grounds that she hadn't known of Irvine's bloody plans for revenge.) He was found guilty of the double murder, and sentenced to be hanged.
Before they hanged him, Irvine's hands were cut off using the knife he had used to kill the boys.... And so on 1 May 1717, Robert Irvine went to the gallows with his own severed hands hanging on a string around his neck.
Today, the stretch of path along which the events are believed to have occurred runs behind the Cafe Royal, immediately opposite the Balmoral Hotel, off the east end of Princes Street. It later became known as Gabriel's Road, after the angel Gabriel who would have come down to escort the souls of the two dead children up to heaven...
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Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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